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Know thy Opponent 2017: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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Forget Michigan-Ohio State. Purdue-Rutgers is the Big Ten game of 2017.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, this is a conference game. Rutgers is entering its fourth season in the Big Ten. In many ways they still don’t feel like a real member of the conference. They are, however, and they are the only team in the league Purdue has never played. Even with Maryland we had the random bowl game meeting after the 2006 season. Rutgers, however, has never been on the schedule, and they won’t be again until at least 2020 since the Big Ten schedules through 2019 have already been released.

What’s even better is that this is a genuine opportunity to win a Big Ten football game, something that has been all too rare in recent seasons. Purdue is a paltry 6-35 over the last five seasons of Big Ten play, and that mark is an even worse 3-33 when you take away Illinois. The Boilers have a losing streak against every conference foe not named Illinois and Rutgers. If not for Rutgers Purdue would have four straight dead last place finishes in the league.

That’s why we need to win this game.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

2016 Record: 2-10, 0-9

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: On the Banks

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Last Purdue win: None

Last Rutgers win: None

Head Coach: Chris Ash (2-10 in Second year at Rutgers)

Last Season for the Scarlet Knights:

At least when it comes to Big Ten play Rutgers might have actually been worse than Purdue’s dismal 2013 season. In 2013 Purdue went 0-8, was shut out twice, and scored only 104 points in league play while giving up 314. Last season Rutgers went 0-9, was shut out an astounding four times, scored only 86 points, and gave up 360. The four shutouts was nearly six, as they only managed 7 points each against Illinois and Iowa on touchdowns scored in the 4th quarter of each game. Those two touchdowns prevented four straight weeks of shutouts. The 34-32 loss at Minnesota accounted for nearly half of the points Rutgers scored in Big Ten play.

This was all capped by the Michigan “game”. In that one Rutgers did not even manage a single first down until the fourth quarter of a 78-0 complete annihilation. Think about that one. For all the railing we did against the Shoopfense at least it occasionally got a first down in 2013. Against Michigan, the Scrlet Knights started the game with 15 straight drives of exactly three plays. 14 of them ended in punts and one in a fumble. They were sitting at -5 yards TOTAL on those 15 drives, a number that is just mind boggling in its futility. With nine minutes left in the game and trailing 71-0 they finally gained a first down on a 12 yard run. They finished the game 5 yards passing and 39 total yards.

This is video of the Rutgers offense in action that day.

They can’t be that bad again, can they?

Rutgers Offense

After last year I can imagine that all 11 starting spots are up for grabs. There are a few bright spots to build upon though. Robert Martin ran for 625 yards and 2 touchdowns with a decent 5.2 yards per carry average. Janarion Grant also showed some promise with 138 yards before an injury cut his season short. Grant even throw a 21 yard touchdown pass.

That one passing attempt might have made him Rutgers’ best quarterback, however. Overall four guys played the position and none of them well. Giovanni Rescigno completed 52.8% of his passes for 889 yards and 5 TDs against 5 interceptions. Chris Laviano completed 48.3% of his passes for 748 yards and 5 TDs against 2 interceptions, but he transferred away.

Rutgers is doing what Purdue is doing in relying on graduate transfers to provide a boost. Gus Edwards at running back comes over after rushing for 977 yards and 12 TDs in 3 years at Miami. Kyle Bolin transferred in from Louisville for his final season because some guy there won the Heisman at his position and returned. In his career he threw for 2,104 yards and 13 TDs, instantly making him the best quarterback the Scarlet Knights have available.

There really is not a lot else out there in terms of proven talent. Dorian Miller has been a two-year starter at guard, but this is a unit that struggled to protect the quarterback for much of last year. Jawuan Harris was the leading receiver with 39 receptions for 481 yards and 3 TDs, but overall this is a unit that struggled in virtually every facet of the game. It was the least efficient and least explosive offense in the Big Ten not just last season, but for the last several seasons. When you consider that John Shoop worked three of the last four seasons in the Big Ten, that is quite a statement. Out of 128 FBS teams last year Rutgers had an S&P rating of 125. They can only get better.

Rutgers Defense

It is hard to think that a team that gave up 136 points in consecutive weeks did not have that bad of a defense, but they suffered from the 2013 Purdue syndrome. That year the Purdue defense was able to make a game effort and keep things close for about a half. Then all hell would break loose because the offense was so putrid the defense could never stay off the field. Rutgers lost its two best defenders, but because the offense was so bad last year the defense got plenty of experience.

Up front you have some decent tackles in Kevin Wilkins and Jon Bateky, even if they are not your typical hulking Big Ten defensive tackles. Darnell Davis rose up from former walk-on to semi-disruptive defensive end and should be better. Kemoko Turay and Jimmy Hogan are there to provide some depth.

At linebacker Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts give Rutgers something to build around. Morris had 102 tackles last season and Roberts was second on the team with 92. They only had 6.5 combined tackles for loss, but they were generally good, solid linebackers. It is certainly better than nothing.

In the secondary there is a lot of help needed. Rutgers intercepted just six passes last season, and Anthony Cioffi, who had two picks, is gone. Blessuan Austin and Isaiah Wharton are both junior corners that have experience and at least give them a chance against the pass. Safeties Kiy Hester and Saquan Hampton are also juniors, making the secondary the strength of the defense. The back seven honestly shouldn’t be that bad.

Rutgers Special Teams

Janarion Grant is one of the more dangerous returners in the Big Ten. No, really! He has eight career returns for TDs combined between punts and kickoffs, and this was after missing a lot of last season with injuries. Some have lauded him as the best all-purpose player in the country. In 2015 he was Second Team all-Big Ten as a return man. He’ll get the ball on offense quite a bit, but he is a dangerous kickoff and punt returner.

The rest of the special teams unit struggled though. David Bonagura was 10 of 14 on field goals and 20 of 22 on extra points. Michael Cintron averaged less than 38 yards per punt. Then there is this from the SB Nation preview:

Bonagura’s kickoffs almost never reached the end zone, and Rutgers ranked 99th in both kick and punt return average allowed and 126th in both kickoff and punt efficiency. Yuck.

Game Outlook

This is really the Big Ten Cripplefight we needed from last year. Instead of playing at Lucas Oil Stadium they could have played it at Indianapolis Crispus Attucks High School just up the street at the same time. Rutgers and Purdue were the two worst teams in the conference by a wide margin (though certain versions of Illinois were close, the Illini did manage two conference wins). Both teams will be better, but mostly because it was hard to get worse.

Even then, Purdue was probably the better team last year even with firing its coach midseason. The Boilers actually won a conference game (and Illinois then went to Rutgers and won). Purdue put up a bit of a fight in the final six games under Gerad Parker. Both teams suffered from a complete dearth of Big Ten talent, but Purdue might have actually had a little bit more.

This could be a very entertaining game because both teams will see the other as a chance at a win. That can lead to an entertaining game. In my seemingly fruitless quest to see Purdue play in every Big Ten stadium I have plans to go to this game. Part of the reason I am going is that it might actually be worth the trip because we could win. Even with Ohio on the schedule Rutgers is probably the worst team Purdue will play. We have to find a way to win it.

Way Too Early Prediction

Coach Brohm is getting me to believe and though it is early, things might actually be coming together. I am curious to see what Purdue can do with actual competent coaching and so far, we appear to have it. Even Hazell might have been able to beat these guys last season. That says a lot. Purdue 31, Rutgers 24